Every time your company or your brand interacts with a customer—online and off, in-person or not, between or about your organization and any member of your audience universe—you “touch” them.
No matter where these touches occur or who initiates or controls them, we call these interactions “touchpoints.” Touchpoints encompass every possible type of interaction between a company and its customers. And every touchpoint creates an impression of your company.
For an airline, touchpoints might range from waiting areas, drink carts, in-flight refreshments, flight attendants, and in-flight entertainment systems to travel agents, television and radio advertisements, customer service centers, mileage statements, credit card offers, Web sites, text messages, and more.
For a technology company, touchpoints might include things like sales people, Web sites, invoicing, call-center based help desk, product packaging and documentation, online chat, direct mail or print advertising, third-party distributors, warranty cards, store displays, and even the actual product.
In a hospital, admitted patients receive more than 100 “touches” during a typical day, from blood-pressure reading and temperature-taking to meal delivery and doctor visits. Starting with the admissions desk and insurance forms, touchpoints can include radiology, orderlies, and the warmed blanket that patients might get while waiting for a procedure or room. The room itself is a touchpoint, too.
Go Further Than Indentifying Touchpoints—Understand How They Make Your Customers Feel
Your industry has a common set of touchpoints that most customers encounter; your business specifically has many more that together create, define, and deliver the unique experience of working with your company.
These touchpoints are the levers for driving prospects through your prepurchase lifecycle, creating, or not creating, customers. They’re also the levers that drive customers through the post-purchase life cycle, driving satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy—affecting share-of-wallet, retention, and positive word-of-mouth.
Of course, this discussion of touchpoints as relationship drivers doesn’t capture the way customers “feel” after you've interacted with them. Many companies have invested heavily in CRM and SFA-type systems, ignoring or unaware of the fact that while they do a great job of looking at their firms from the inside out (“When did we touch a customer?”), they have no ability to capture the outside-in customer perspective (“How did that interaction make our customer feel?”).
Important questions get missed in an inside-out view of the world. Questions such as: How do customer beliefs and attitudes affect their perceptions of a touchpoint? Do touchpoints address the wants and needs of our customer, recognizing that these wants and needs can shift and change at different points of time during the relationship? Do they engender customer confidence, indifference, or loathing?
The fact is, customer perceptions of, and attitudes toward, your company are driven by the combined experiences delivered through your touchpoints—and the ways touchpoints make your customers feel. Another way to put it is this: The sum of interacting with a company’s touchpoints equals the customer experience.
Effective Touchpoints Move Customers Closer; Ineffective Touchpoints Push Customers Away
Each touchpoint—depending on how well it meets customer needs and expectations—either brings customers closer to you or helps to push them out the door. Effective touchpoints meet customer needs and, ideally, help move them to the next stage in your relationship. Touchpoints that don’t meet customer needs hinder this progression. The less-than-helpful customer service rep. The difficult-to-navigate Web site. The opaque phone tree that circles customers endlessly to a nonexistent receptionist.
But customer experiences are not just driven by the touchpoints that your company controls; many touchpoints that have a profound influence on customer experience are outside your direct control. That includes word-of-mouth, bloggers and the media, distributors, resellers, retailers, outsourced customer service, and marketing partners who sell under your good name, all “touch” your customers.
In the past, companies had high degrees of control over touchpoints and significant influence over customer behavior. In the world of disruptive forces, that control is increasingly slipping away.
The importance of touchpoints—understanding them all, controlling those that you can, and influencing those you cannot—will be a defining factor in delivering a better customer experience, building stronger relationships, and driving loyalty in the years that come.
The questions your company needs to ask and answer are these: Which touchpoints are driving customers closer to us? And which are pushing customers away? Which of those touchpoints can we control? And which can we influence?
Once you understand this, you’ll have the tools you need to begin controlling those touchpoints you can, and influencing those you cannot control.